All posts by Chad Beyler

‘The change’ changes women’s heart-disease risk

Few people talk about menopause and heart disease in the same sentence. That should change.

As women age and move out of their child-bearing years, their estrogen levels decrease.

Estrogen, however, does an amazing job of helping prevent heart disease. Estrogen gives good cholesterol more power and diminishes the impact of bad cholesterol on the body. Estrogen keeps veins and arteries pliable so blood flows freely through the body. When blood flow is restricted, blood pressure rises, putting strain on the heart.

Healthcare experts and their female patients should talk about menopause and heart health so women know what they can do on their own and what help their care team can provide.

Knowing your numbers is key. All of these contribute to a woman’s risk of heart disease, stroke and other related health issues.

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Blood sugar
  • Body Mass Index or BMI

Once women know their level of heart-disease risk, they can work with their care team on lifestyle changes and medication or innovative heart procedures, if needed.

These do-able lifestyle changes can help reduce the chance of having a heart attack.

  • Stop smoking
  • Choose healthier foods
    • Poultry and fish; limit red meat
    • Grilled and baked; avoid fried
    • Blueberries, almonds as snacks
  • Portion control, especially carbs
  • Regular exercise; not just a stroll

One challenge during the years leading up to when a woman’s period stops is that menopause and heart disease boast some of the same symptoms, including:

  • Night sweats
  • Lack of energy
  • Gaining weight

Because heart disease can be deadly, women – and the men in their lives – should know to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 when they experience these symptoms.

  • Chest pain, pressure
  • Arm, neck, back, jaw pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea, vomiting

Learn more about heart disease – the number-one killer of women of all ethnicities – from these female cardiologists right here in Illinois.

Plus, you’ll find good advice for focusing on heart health early children, teens and young adults.

A Deputy Sheriff Honored

Our valley is filled with many people who have interesting stories to tell. Connie Hoyt is one of those people. She is the oldest living deputy sheriff in Yakima County.

Her story starts on a farm in Iowa, near Cherokee. Connie said that the land is so flat there that the saying is, “… a snowflake can cover three states before settling down because it’s so flat.”

We had a nice laugh about that.

She settled down with her first husband, and they adopted their daughter on Christmas. Connie talks very fondly of her daughter, and you can see that she has that mother’s twinkle in her eye when speaking about her.

Connie had aspirations to go to college to learn psychology. She’s interested in people, their behaviors, and why they do what they do. This interest eventually led her to become an intern at the nearby mental hospital with her church group. She used to play the piano when she was there, and the patients would sing and dance to her playing.

Connie’s story eventually brought her to Yakima, where she worked several different jobs. She was growing bored of her job at the time when she decided to apply for the opening at the sheriff’s office in 1968.

She got the job and was one of about 20 people, including the main sheriff and cook. That meant that there were about 20 people for the whole county, but as Connie mentioned when we were talking, the county was different in those days because towns were much smaller. There were different parts of the job to learn, and one had to adapt in order to do whatever came up at the moment on the job.

Back when Connie started, there were half a dozen women working there, and that changed about a year later, when the job opened up to more women. Uniforms also changed. They used to have to wear a blouse, skirts, and kitten heals. That all changed one winter when Connie and the sheriff were out in a snowbank, and he then understood the need for some changes.

The uniforms changed to custom-made pants, sensible shoes, a blouse, and eventually, a vest. Connie was also instrumental in starting the first shooting team for the women of the department. She noted that they used to run shooting drills.

The firearm training happened once a month, and from there, they were able to carry firearms in their purses. Connie noted during our conversation that it was different then for a woman to be a deputy. She said that people often thought it was tacky, but she didn’t care. Her intrigue for understanding why people do what they do, why people act the way they act (whether committing a crime or not) interested her, and she didn’t mind what people’s perceptions of her were as a female deputy.

Connie and her first husband eventually parted ways. Life would then bring Pete Hoyt into her story. They were coworkers and friends first, and then, loved bloomed. Pete and Connie dated for about a year and a half before marrying in 1971. Connie says that Pete was an undersheriff for about 15 years and loved the work of the job.

Sadly, Connie lost Pete in December of 1999 after being married 28 years. She lovingly showed me pictures of him, one of both of them and one of just him. He looked like a very kind and strong soul, and they looked very happy. I think it was the smile on her face when she talked about him, as well as a wonderfully smiling couple in one of the pictures, that solidified this thought for me.

Connie eventually retired in 1983 from the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen next or where you will be next. I loved it,” she said, reflecting on her journey.

She also mentioned that the training is still with her. When going out, she’s very aware of exits. She sits where she can see the door, and she’s aware of those around her.

“I always pay attention to who’s between me and the door,” she said.

Recently, there was a big meeting where the new sheriff presented flowers to her for her service and for being the oldest living deputy sheriff in Yakima County.

“Life has been wild. Good, bad, and all the in-between,” Connie said.

I happen to agree. Well said, and congratulations, Connie, on your achievements!

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance Northwest, serving Yakima County. She is a small-town girl from Naches and has a great husband who can fix anything and 2 kids who are her world. Like this article? Feel free to respond to VantagePoint@healthalliance.org. Thanks for reading!

You Can’t Beat a Healthy Heart or 6 More Weeks of Winter

Just when you think the holidays are over and the thrill of the new year has finally tapered down, here comes February – Groundhog Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Mardis Gras, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents Day. February is a multi-themed, food-filled month of celebration.   

We anticipate the shadow reveal of Punxsutawney Phil, we break out the football-shaped cheese ball to root for our team, we plan our menu of anything and everything on Fat Tuesday, and if that isn’t enough, we love to eat chocolates on the day of love. Then when it’s all over (and after a slight weight gain), we hit the mall for some comfy stretch wear with Presidents Day sale bargains!

But wait, how about doing something this month to celebrate our health and focus on our heart? If we can take advice from a small woodchuck about the weather, we surely can take advice from the American Heart Association about our health!

February is American Heart Month, and part of that is National Wear Red Day. For those of you who know me, my wardrobe is pretty colorful, but I love to support this cause and wear extra red during this month.

The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute encourage all of us to take action against this killer disease. Studies show that 80% of cardiac and stroke events may be preventable with education and action.

Find time to talk to your family and get everyone on board with heart health. Encourage healthy eating habits by making healthier versions of your favorite food. Choose foods and recipes low in sodium and with no added sugar or trans fats. When you shop, buy colorful fruits and vegetables, which are all powerhouses when it comes to nutrition, and stay away from dairy and meat products that are high in fat. 

Fiber is important in your diet, and you can find fiber not only in fruits and vegetables, but also in beans, nuts, and whole grain. Take the time to read the nutrition labels on items, and check out the sodium content. (A general rule is, if anything has more than 250 mg of sodium, you may want to search for something with less.)

Physical activity can also help you stay heart healthy. It’s not only what you put into your body, but it’s also what you put out. Exercise helps to improve heart health, and it can even help reverse certain heart disease risk factors. Our heart becomes stronger from exercise, which helps it pump more blood through the body and work at maximum level without strain.

Aerobic activities at least 3 to 4 times a week are the best. Choose walking, swimming, or biking, and allow for a good 5 minutes of stretching beforehand to warm up your muscles and a cool down period after you’re through. And of course, always check with your doctor before starting any new physical routine.

So this February, maybe forego indulging in lavish holiday food choices (remember that New Year’s resolution?) and celebrate in a new way. Go out and buy something red to wear to celebrate heart health AND 6 more weeks of winter, or will it be an early spring? Better check with Punxsutawney Phil before you go!

Morgan Gunder is a community and broker liaison for Reid Health Alliance. Born in the South and raised in the Midwest, she is a wife and mother with a passion for traveling, learning, and technology.

How Do You Take Your Doctor?

I will do absolutely anything to avoid going to the doctor. I think it’s because I’m part of that sandwich generation, where my elders seem to schedule their social lives around doctor’s appointments, and my children think you can just watch a YouTube video and cure anything. 

Let’s be honest here. My top reason for not wanting to go to the doctor is having to get on the scale. The whole process drives up my blood pressure and impacts my perfectly oblivious state of mind. I’ll try just about everything first to avoid asking for some help.

I recently had to visit a doctor because I needed to have something lanced. I’m not going to get any deeper into detail here, but there is a show on cable TV that shows a dermatologist building her practice around “popping” things that grow on our bodies. So that was the vision I had in my head. 

I had already tried every Pinterest home remedy I could find. Nothing worked, so Monday comes around, and I finally decided I needed to see a doctor. Thankfully, I had several options for how to receive my “doctoring.”  I like options. They make me feel like I have some semblance of control over what is happening.

Do you realize you have a menu of choices when it comes to seeing a doctor?

  1. Traditional primary care clinics. This is most likely the best option for all of us. Having a primary care provider who knows us well, understands our medical history, and has developed a care treatment plan unique to our own special needs is ideal. I have one, haven’t seen him in about a year so it is time again, but I do have one.

I didn’t choose this option for a few reasons. A.) His office is a bit of a drive. B.) I probably needed to get in that day. C.) I didn’t want to have to answer questions like, “What were you thinking?”

  • House calls. Here in the Quad Cities, we are lucky to have some primary care providers willing to make house calls. This particular practice is targeting those who have mobility challenges, like aging patients, but hey, if you like this idea, check it out.

Again, not a good choice for me because there is some lead time needed to make an appointment. Check with your local health systems to determine if there are house call primary care practices available in your area.

  • Virtual Visits and Telemedicine. Because technology is our friend, many insurance plans are offering members the ability to use their smart phones (sorry, Dad, not the flip phone), tablets, or computers to consult a doctor, 24/7 and 365 days a year, wherever you are. This option can help with well over 50 health conditions, but I didn’t choose this one because I thought the doctor would need to perform a procedure. 

I’m sure someday we’ll all be going online to order a robotic arm accessory for our phone so a doctor can remove our appendix. Someday, but not today.

  • Convenient or urgent care clinics. This is the option I chose after discovering that I could go online and choose my time slot. I also discovered that sometime over the summer, a brand-new clinic opened up about 1,000 feet from my residence. It even had a little clock showing how long the wait times were if I had just walked in off the street. No lines, no waiting, no commute, no excuses not to go. 

I scheduled a 9:30 a.m. appointment and was off the scale (I didn’t look) and in the examining room by 9:40. The doctor checked me out and laughed at my Pinterest mishaps. I was out by 10:10 a.m. and off to the pharmacy.

So the moral of the story here is pretty simple: Doctors and other healthcare professionals want to help you get better. It’s pretty much what they do, and they went to school for a lot of years to learn how.

Healthcare professionals understand that the modern lives we live can complicate fitting an office visit into an already full schedule. In an effort to meet you where you are, they’ve gone to great lengths to offer options to suit your needs. Location options, options around operating hours, options using technology. Let them help you (like I eventually let them help me).

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Alternative Flour Recipes

Heart Health Starts with One Simple Step

Knowing about heart health and taking action are two different things. Both are important, and you can start both today – for yourself and in honor of American Hearth Month.

Learn three things about heart health here. Each includes one thing you can begin today to start strong. Healthcare experts know small changes matter. You’ll feel successful without being overwhelmed.

Plus, you can add another change once you master the first.

Move toward a heart-healthy diet. We’re learning lean meats and seafood are better than fat-filled alternatives. We know processed items don’t stack up as well as foods in their original format. And it’s true the right fresh fruits and vegetables can help relieve damage from not-so-healthy eating patterns and set us up for success. But where should you start?

Here’s that one thing you can do: Cut down on salt.

It’s easier than you think. Start by looking at the nutrition labels on the foods you eat. You’re likely taking in more salt than you realize. That awareness makes it easier to make smart changes without sacrificing flavor.

Give your heart muscle a workout. It’s that simple. Movement makes your heart stronger.

One thing you can do:Choose how you move.

Walking isn’t for everyone, but it’s an easy place to start. Even better, you’ll feel the benefits quickly. Just 10 to 15 minutes a day makes your heart stronger, your endurance greater and your satisfaction higher.

Avoid tobacco. We discover daily how harmful smoking, chewing, vaping and other ways to use tobacco can be. Our body simply isn’t meant to cope with such foreign substances. Repeated exposure to tobacco leads to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and even death.

One thing you can do: Check out Quit For Life.

It’s worked for millions. It can work for you.

Again, keep your heart-health goals manageable so you don’t get overwhelmed. We welcome you to check out these other heart-focused topics from your friends at Health Alliance.

For help learning about caring for your heart – and taking do-able action that makes a difference – check out these additional tips. Then speak with your care team. Or contact Health Alliance at the number on the back of your member ID card and ask if health coaching or care coordination might be right for you.

Steps Towards a Healthy Pregnancy with Diabetes

Manage Your Pregnancy with Health Alliance Care Coordination

You or your loved one is pregnant. You are eager – and a bit nervous – about bringing a new life into the world. What can you do to ensure that your new baby girl or boy is born healthy? Establishing and maintaining a healthy pregnancy is step number one, and setting up prenatal care should be top priority. Prenatal care allows you to closely monitor your doctor visits, ultrasounds and other testing. This helps you prepare for your journey ahead – easing your worries and helping you focus on what truly matters.

Imagine having access to an extra layer of support, provided directly through your health insurance company. Health Alliance offers just that, through our Prenatal Care Coordination. This free program, offered through your Health Alliance Medical Plan, pairs you with an experienced nurse who helps you navigate your pregnancy.

Nicole McCoy RN, BSN is the prenatal, neonatal and pediatric care coordinator for Health Alliance.  Nicole has been a nurse for 10 years and has extensive experience with high risk pregnancies, neonates and pediatrics in many different capacities. She has cared for patients at their bedsides, attended neonatal deliveries as part of resuscitation teams and has participated in flight and emergency nursing. At Health Alliance, Nicole has helped our members experiencing both healthy and more challenging pregnancies. She provides moms-to-be with expertise and support to reach their health goals. Nicole can answer questions about weight management, proper nutrition and how to understand care plans. She also offers support – and knowledge – for those who are experiencing high-risk pregnancies and complications. Nicole works with our members over the phone, and also in person for those who live in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Interested in working with Nicole? She offers compassionate, caring help with the following services throughout your pregnancy and postpartum period:

Understanding and managing your pregnancy: Many women struggle with understanding certain aspects of their pregnancy, or with common medical conditions that add complications. Nicole works directly with you, providing education and support through your pregnancy and postpartum period. She addresses any concerns that may arise, such as postpartum depression.  

Setting and reaching your pregnancy health goals: No matter what your health goals are during pregnancy, Nicole can assist you. Need help setting specific goals? Need certain supports? Or simply want help staying motivated? Nicole helps you reach the goals that are most important to you.

Assuring there are no gaps in your plan of care: Nicole can check that there are no missing parts to your current plan of care, and she will assist you in addressing needs as they arise.

Navigating your health insurance plan: Nicole can help guide you through certain insurance processes, such as prior authorizations and referrals. She will provide you the appropriate resources or information to make the best decisions for you and your baby.

Finding resources related to your pregnancy and wellbeing: Nicole works closely with experts in other Health Alliance departments – such as pharmacy and social work – to address any related needs.

Working with your obstetrics office: Nicole has a wonderful working relationship with many obstetrics doctors who are Health Alliance providers. She works closely with them to ensure the best possible care for you and your new family. Interested in Care Coordination?  Please reach out to our staff by calling 1-800-851-3379 ext 28947 or emailing Care.Coordination@healthalliance.org.

Steps to a Happy Medicare New Year

Winter preparations are done, and winter festivals and end-of-year celebrations are over. But just when you think you can sit back and relax, there is still one last item you may need to consider.

If you made any changes to your Medicare plan during the Annual Enrollment Period, there are some actions you can take that may help you have a happy Medicare new year.

If you enrolled in a new plan or your plan had changes during the Annual Enrollment Period, you should make sure you’ve received your new member ID card. This card contains the newest info for your 2020 care.

Be sure to show your new ID card to the doctor’s office and pharmacist during your first visit of the new year so that they have your newest information on file. You also might have new deductibles, and whether they’re new or not, they start over at the beginning of the year.

If you decided to stay with Original Medicare, you’ll still use your red, white, and blue Medicare card for hospital and doctor services.

If you joined a Medicare prescription drug plan that works with Original Medicare, the plan will mail you a card so you can fill your prescriptions. If you joined a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll also get a new card to use for both healthcare visits (doctor and hospital) and for picking up your prescriptions.

If you need medical care or need to fill a prescription before you receive the ID card but after coverage begins, you may be able to use other proof of plan membership. Some examples are the welcome letter you got from the plan or even your enrollment confirmation number and the plan name and phone number.

If you elected to have your plan premium withheld from your Social Security check, don’t be alarmed if you don’t see it deducted right away. It may take up to 3 months from the time you made the premium withhold request before you start seeing your premium withheld from your Social Security payment.

This year is a great time to take advantage of your one-time Welcome to Medicare visit (available when you first join Medicare) or your annual wellness visit. This benefit is usually no cost to you. It’s designed as a preventive measure to help you take charge of your health, be advised of future needed preventive services, and establish a baseline for personalized care. And speaking of preventive measures, many Medicare Advantage plans come with a fitness benefit or provide access to physical fitness activities at no cost to you.

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2020!

Jessica Arroyo is a community liaison for Health Alliance Northwest, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. Born and raised in the Wenatchee Valley, during her time off, she enjoys spending time with her husband and her two very busy kids.